There’s a lot to unpack here. Not just the immense pressure in creating a sequel to “The Shining,” but the novel “Doctor Sleep” itself is quite long and covers a large swath of Danny Torrence’s life. It’s a testament, then, to the pure skill of everyone involved that “Doctor Sleep” is anything but a dull boy.
Ewan McGregor’s (“Big Fish,” “Trainspotting”) performance here is one to be rivaled. There’s a worn warmth to this older Danny that he embodies so well. He clearly cares about those around him and has so many demons all locked up to try and have a normal life for himself. The arcs and motivations, as well as the broad strokes and changes in the third act never take away from the immense character work McGregor delivers, turning out a performance to beat.
Likewise, Kyliegh Curran, in her major debut, shows exactly why she should be watched in future years. There’s an equal parts determination and childlike innocence to her fascination with the Shining. She’s the perfect parallel to Danny, somehow still seeking out the wonder and good that can be done with their powers.
Meanwhile, Rebecca Ferguson (“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation,” “Florence Foster Jenkins”) is a delicious antagonist who sulks through the scenery and builds her anticipation. Note, she isn’t villainous, as she maintains a level of calmness and intensity that allows her to become menacing without ever taking the title of “evil villain.”
Her group of energy vampires are wondrous as well, as is the rest of the supporting cast. Particular standouts are Emily Alyn Lind (“Won’t Back Down,” “Lights Out”) as Snakebite Andi, a character whose screen time is limited but makes her mark quickly and effectively, Carl Lumbly ("How Stella Got Her Groove Back," "A Cure for Wellness"), taking over the role of Dick Halloran from Scatman Crothers, and Danny’s friend Billy, played by Cliff Curtis (“The Majestic,” “Sunshine”), a kind soul who makes a mark of warmth and normalcy on Danny’s life and the film.
Writer/Director Mike Flanagan (“Hush,” “The Haunting of Hill House”) continues to show impressive work thanks to an excellent control of space and lighting. Multiple sequences jump between enclosed spaces like bathrooms, bedrooms and kitchens to wide open spaces like forests and town squares. This also ties into the film’s heavy usage of doors and the framing of them, as entrances and exits, nothing in between. It’s clearly purposeful, and cinematographer Michael Fimognari (“The Haunting of Hill House,” “Fast Color”) uses these juxtapositions to build the two types of Shiners who exist in this world.
Here comes the elephant in the room though; this film, while based on the sequel novel written by Stephen King, is a sequel to “The Shining;” one of the most beloved films of all time, period. There’s a lot of pressure riding on this film, and Flanagan’s expert control of character work helps the story avoid falling into disrepair.
Virtually every story moment or major decision is punctuated with moments of intense thought and consideration. This is fantastic, because not only does it allow for true time to be taken getting to know the inner machinations of this world and characters, but it means that when those moments are taken away, they’re even more jarring and upsetting.
Huge amounts of time are spent just watching Danny live his life, get back on his feet, and learn to use his powers for good and comfort. While this might appear boring, Flanagan slowly reveals that, in order to show the differences and lengths between Danny, Abra and the others, these distinct differences, large and small, must be shown.
This does lead to a fairly long run time, and a pace that might be slower than most would like, but “Doctor Sleep” uses its deliberately slow pace very effectively, building an atmosphere of dread and unease, rather than deliberate horror.
Thankfully, it keeps that in common with the previous film. “Annabelle,” this is not, there is nary a single jump scare in the film, allowing the surprises, twists, and expertly crafted atmosphere to stretch out and breath, creating the horror naturally through the world itself.
It does rely heavily on “The Shining,” a bit too much for some people’s liking. But each moment spent back in the Overlook, or each reused shot feels deliberate and purposeful. Yes, it might be aping a shot or moment from the first film, but the ways that Flanagan, who also edited the film, utilize these moments feel like they couldn’t have existed in any other way. It’s not copying, its deliberate tribute.
“Doctor Sleep” is masterful, incredibly creepy, and an intensely watchable movie-going experience. It’s deep character works and wondrous performances, as well as some phenomenal cinematography make this an unmissable cinema experience. Whether you’ve been to the Overlook before or not, you shouldn’t miss this appointment with “Doctor Sleep.” 5/5